Man, the Object-Mythologicist: Literal and Spatial Objects
A Tentative Statement
My primary goal is to develop a small theoretical groundwork for where art may be situated within human life, and especially an art-making that actively engages with the possibility of certain actions being acted out. The object is perhaps like a spawning pool for imaginary events (in the first, ideal stage) that may unfold, many of which may not be available to simple representation through another medium such as voice or text. I see this type of art as being an activator of both conceptual levels of thought, association and so forth, as well as being practically or ”possibly” used. ”Possibly” may for example be likened with that certain level of balance that one encounters in humor: that something is quite plausible yet one is hyper-aware of one’s involvement in the present situation, so as not to become the joke oneself. That is an example I think makes sense for dissolving the simple duality of use object or art object.
— From the introduction to the text
Man, the Object-Mythologicist: Literal and Spatial Objects (A Tentative Statement) is the essay I wrote while finishing my Master’s degree in Fine Art at Valand Academy (Gothenburg, Sweden). I came in to the Fine Arts programme with a distinctly digital portfolio and way of thinking about interaction and the subject — (art) object relationship. The two years studying at Valand Academy gave me a much more thorough understanding of how to work cross-medially and intellectually with my practice.
Below I have included the introduction and a few snippets from the essay. You can also read the essay in full, if you’d like.
From the section “Objects of Faith”
To enframe is to do the work of the artist. This same activity is what social life is fundamentally based on if we are to understand the ordering regime as being related to a level of thinking that must abstract experiences. While it may at times probably feel like I am arguing that we are hostage to every slight material artifact existing in the sensory world, I want to give a small disclaimer and breathing pause. What is at stake is something like Sherry Turkle has written, ”…we often feel at one with our objects. The diabetic feels at one with his glucometer, as increasingly we feel at one with the glowing screens of our laptops, our iPods, and our BlackBerries. […] Indeed, in the psychoanalytic tradition, both persons and things are tellingly called ‘objects’ and suggest that we deal with their loss in a similar way.” (Turkle 2011: 9) By every way that things created in the world has a possibility for mental entrapment and political tampering, so they also can provide rich resources for our experience of life: sensuous, wondrous, curious or serious could be words for it, but their minutiae is immediate, present, and private.
From the section “Objectionable relations”
To reiterate, my argument so far is that a larger turn has occurred which places the concept of the multidimensional, spatial object — and with it, related notions like space, interface, interaction — where the flat symbol was earlier. Something like relational aesthetics make this connection fairly clear: why represent something by acting upon dead matter like oil or wood when you can use the real thing itself — the human — to give direct access to the experience or situation? One moves from traditional, disinterested, cognitively loaded symbol-interaction with art into witnessing the immediate reaction/interaction/inaction of people often with interface objects. With interface objects I mean those intermediary things that people deal with, like the food-making tools and food-eating utensils that create the context for Rirkrit Tiravanija’s food-centered relational artworks14. In the way I am laying out my claim here, those intermediary objects would be the primary actants in this chain. So, let’s dissect the interactions in a kitchen situation á la Tiravanija.
Actor specification: general food-centered relational artwork
Actant 1 → Interaction device (Plate and eating device)
Actant 2 → User-interactor, spectator (”Gallery visitor”)
Actant 3 → Location and spatial conditions (“Kitchen”)
Actant 4 → Instigator/enframer (Artist)
Who “speaks” or communicates, and in which order, may vary and is probably a highly contentious issue in the first place. That the sequence is structured based on the previous elements, however, will likely seem fairly true. So, it is probably fair to say that upon the creation of a context, outlined by the delimitations of the interaction devices (utensils and plates), the artwork produces itself in the unfolding of the latent action, which most commonly would be to use the device to eat food. The role of the enframer/artist is to direct the experience in the way which is relevant according to his/her plan. The work unfolds.
This text is produced as an extended artistic statement or work-in-progress- art-philosophy in the shape of an essay. As such it will be a text both personal, explorative and processual. As such, it also is necessarily incomplete, associative and likely far too wide in its scope. My basic artistic vantage point is that human life is endowed actionability to a large extent by the things we make and use. This for me has consequences for those objects that permeate daily life, like spoons and carpets, as well as the ”enframed object” made by the artist. What I mean specifically with ”enframed” will be made clear later. Suffice to say that I do not mean paintings in particular but all of art in the expanded contemporary sense.
To act or use something expands our repertoire of verbs possible to use. Here I am indebted to Richard Serra’s ”Verb List” as it is elegant in its simplicity and conceptual heft. It sometimes seems to me that there is usually a highly matter-of-fact and dry, impotent idea of what ”use” entails: the hammer drives the nail, the jacket keeps out the cold and the chair allows sitting. Nothing about the experience of doing so or other looser experiential data — just the consequence of something leading to something other, i.e. nail being external to the board, and then through the application of force through the hammer-object, the nail becoming part of the board. Admittedly this flatness has its points; that is also exactly the breaking point between language and experience I will address here. So, beyond these basic functional differences, objects depend on a complex network of history, belief and knowledge. While there is a historically sanctioned reason (history being necessarily a pre- condition for religions) for Muslims not to eat pork or for Swedes not to drive on the left, the ”belief” or commonly upheld enforcing of this rule is infused both ways. Knowledge or even the lack of knowledge of something, whose antinome can become its own discrete action, can interrupt the belief in question. Ultimately, I find this to be an area where our lives can be said to be delineated strongly by what one can, or cannot, do — in other words — determined by what one’s potential for actionability is in a given situation.
My primary goal is to develop a small theoretical groundwork for where art may be situated within human life, and especially an art-making that actively engages with the possibility of certain actions being acted out. The object is perhaps like a spawning pool for imaginary events (in the first, ideal stage) that may unfold, many of which may not be available to simple representation through another medium such as voice or text. I see this type of art as being an activator of both conceptual levels of thought, association and so forth, as well as being practically or ”possibly” used. ”Possibly” may for example be likened with that certain level of balance that one encounters in humor: that something is quite plausible yet one is hyper-aware of one’s involvement in the present situation, so as not to become the joke oneself. That is an example I think makes sense for dissolving the simple duality of use object or art object. The ridiculous can therefore gain a foothold for enacting real critique in a way that a streamlined process of discourse has gradually disallowed. My argument is that art as it is understood today should be buried as a concept, instead allowing for a criticality of the contemporary variety (and its connected philosophical and political fields) into an experiential, culturally-diverse and historically more accurate version. In this alternative model, greater energies are to be found within the unspoken, uncertain, asocial, non-literal segments of experience.
Using the word ”experience” is of course troublesome as it is fairly wide and general. I mean sensory perceptions (bodily and mental) that pertain to one existing within the world, as part of it, something that is most likely only ever a momentary instance of time as it occurs to oneself just then. Every attempt at remembrance and retelling is a point of symbolic interaction. While it would be unfair to totally and entirely reject symbolic realms, I wish to pursue an art-making and art-participation that allows this to be a unitary practice.
”Use” is a broad concept I invoke in order to level out the differentiation that has been created historically regarding how specific interactions with art-media are expected to happen. To move forward, I propose that artworks be deemed objects or things even if they would, by others of more conservative flavor, be seen as transcending into a class of things that become classified as types of ”exceptions”, for example, as a Photograph or a Painting, not a chemical residue collection on dead wood or oil-based foam board with dried paint on top. So, I will henceforth say that one ”uses” a photograph as one uses a backpack. The medium or format or material properties are separate from any kind of representational veneer, or rather, intertwined because the material and the performing of it spawns its own work by way of interaction or conceptual possibility spaces emerging from, even, inter-passive handling. What I will argue for is an approach that attaches temporal, spatial and activity-based meaning to the artwork regardless of formal classification. Thus put, I also place emphasis on the imaginary and unutterable qualities of inter-human communication, where text and other formal language use may be allowed, but where alternative strategies of contact are given more room.
Throughout the essay images of my most recent work, together with very short presentations, will be found which may elucidate my own artistic progress in parallel with the writing of this text. I have been slowly building this framework for at least the last 12 months, which is now presented here in its current, transient, somewhat unkempt form. The starting point will be to draw up some parameters as to what the relation may be between general sign-making, the more directed activity of art, and their respective connection to human life. With the latter I am referring to the being or existing of human animals living on a biological planet, with a unique and specific set of possibilities for communicating among one another. It will be impossible to provide any great deal of answers, instead I hope to inspire a view on art-making and art- experiencing that takes a fuller stance on art’s potential as a form of communication and human activity.